Rik Mayall Interviews and Articles Archive

The Pan Global Phenomenon in all his verbal glory.

Category: 2005

Young at Heart – Rik Mayall

The Stage, 5th September 2005

Rik Mayall tells Phil Penfold how his latest role is a radical departure from the wild and dangerous characters of his past

It has been some time since Rik Mayall has graced our screens with a new project, although his inimitable commentary on an assortment of adverts has meant that he has never really felt that far away.

But the Bottom star is now firmly back in the saddle and his career is once again forging ahead after the horrific accident he survived seven years ago.

He plunged from a quad bike that he was driving on his Devon estate and his head injuries were so severe that he spent the next five days in a critical condition in deep coma.

He says: “Effectively, I died. Coming to was a strange process. Three-fifths of my brain was clogged with blood and the rest was barely functioning. The most used bits were bounced around, I was hearing colours and seeing sounds.

It was a case of pushing hard to make it all try and function in the right areas again. I think it was about seven months before things started to properly slip into place. It was a terrifying time.”

Even now Mayall will ask if he is repeating himself, or if he has answered a question correctly. He adds: “Stage shows, where lines have to come in precisely the correct order, are, if not a difficulty, then something of a strain.”

You would never guess. Wisecracking, brilliantly alert and self-deprecating, Mayall is a man clearly riding a wave. A wave that started more than 30 years ago and which shows no sign of leaving him beached anytime soon. The biggest difference of the man of old and the man of the moment is his mane of grey hair, clipped trimly short. The last time that he and Adrian Edmondson – they’ve been mates and performing partners for 30 years now – did a Bottom tour [four years ago], he admits that he was adding a bit of dye to his locks in order to perpetuate the youthful Young Ones image that his fans seemed to want him to cling to.

“Then I just thought to myself that it was all bloody stupid, I was going grey and that was that. It was far better to go with the flow. So I had a very short haircut for the rest of the tour,” he laughs.

There isn’t much he hasn’t worked on – from Blackadder to The Bill, the credits go on and on. Last year he teamed up with Ricky Gervais for popular animation Valiant and this year he can be heard as the voice of King Arthur in CITV’s animated take on the legend.

Otherwise you can see him this autumn as the eponymous character in new ITV1 show All About George, which, says Mayall, came to him out of the blue. He explains: “It is very different from anything else I have ever done. It’s a drama-comedy, or a comedy-drama, whatever you would like to call it. There are so many things that are true to life in this series. I guess that I did The Young Ones about being a teenager. I appeared in The New Statesman, which was about being in my twenties. Bottom was about the time that I was in my thirties and now All About George focuses on a man who is in his late forties and who is in the middle of a huge family and who has a ton of responsibilities.

“George is so many things to so many people. He is a son, a grandson and a husband. He is a new grandfather, a father and a stepfather and he has a large extended family. He is a funny character because he’s quite proper and middle class and that is a real first for me. I don’t know who suggested me for the casting but whoever it was, well, their imagination is breathtaking.”

The star admits he was unsure he could play such nice character, adding that the affable George has a “shed load” of qualities he would actually like. He chuckles: “I kept on reading through Bullen’s script thinking, ‘Yeah, lovely, but who is it that he finally punches?’ or ‘when is he unfaithful?’.

But he isn’t. Well, I’m telling a little bit of a fib there because there is actually a terrific fight sequence later on in the series, where I was asked to go full-on for it and the other actor really went for it as well. Huge fun.”

Mayall is reluctant to talk too much about his own family life. He and wife Barbara have been married for 20 years and he has three children. He says: “I’m very lucky because Barbara does everything around the house. All I seem to be able to be put in charge of is letting the cat in!”


Rik Mayall: Rik’s Heart of Darkness

The Independant, 28th February 2005

He’s back, but this time it’s serious. Rik Mayall tells James Rampton why he’s glad not to be laughing

Rik Mayall has made a career out of the sort of violent antics that would not look out of place in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Over the past three decades, in shows such as The Young Ones, Filthy, Rich and Catflap and, of course, Bottom, he and his long-term comedy partner Adrian Edmondson have knocked seven bells out of each other. Once, after a live show in Liverpool, both of them ended up in casualty.

In person, Mayall is a manic ball of energy. He is always on. “I like applause more than most,” he grins. “I love accepting pants being thrown at me!” Even though he has flu, Mayall still exudes a Tigger-ish enthusiasm for life. He is able to sit down in his armchair for only a moment before leaping up to act out another story.

He starts by explaining why, in his act, he has always shown such relish for mindless violence. “Why is it so fascinating?” Mayall asks. “Because it’s a great equaliser; it’s a challenge to authority. It’s that attitude of, ‘Yeah, they can give you parking-tickets, but they can’t stop you setting fire to the traffic warden!'” On stage, Mayall throws himself into acts of wanton violence with gleeful abandon – as soon as a large frying-pan appears in Bottom, you know full well what it’s going to be used for.

Looking trim in a black T-shirt and trousers, Mayall argues that his and Edmondson’s slapstick assaults are “everything everyone has always wanted to do to other people. Our stage characters are acting out the way we’d all like to behave, if only we were allowed to.”

So, Mayall seems the perfect choice to front Violent Nation. The series, which begins on the Discovery Channel on 6 March, charts the history of violence in Britain. In one instalment, Mayall explores the ways the state has exploited brutality to suppress its citizens. He revels, for instance, in the details of 16th-century instruments of torture such as the boot. This dastardly metal contraption was strapped to the feet of alleged miscreants. If they refused to confess to a crime, the boot would be boiled until flesh started dropping off the feet. Yuk!

Mayall recalls what drew him to this “smorgasbord of the history of British violence”. “When Discovery first asked me, I initially said, ‘No, I’ll look like an intellectual or a has-been or, worse still, both at the same time!’ Then they said, ‘Go on – it’s about violence’, and I replied, ‘OK, you know my penchant!’ But the biggest incentive was that they didn’t want me to be funny. They said, ‘We just want you to tell us stuff.’ The idea of not having to be funny really attracted me. This shows another side to me. It sounds a horrible thing to say, but it gives me the freedom to be more grown-up. It’s important to emphasise that this is not a comedy show. I just like telling stories.”

He goes on to give an example, recounting it with lip-smacking enjoyment. “In Anglo-Saxon times, the only way to settle a dispute was through a ‘blood feud’. This meant that if you were related to a murder victim, it was your duty to go and kill the murderer. But then you became a murderer, and the killing went on ad infinitum. You can see why I was attracted to this subject matter – it’s so absurd and surreal!”

Evidently, life is sweet for Mayall, but it was not ever thus. In 1998, he suffered life-threatening injuries when he fell off his quad bike at his home in Devon. He suffered a brain haemorrhage and a fractured skull. He lay in a coma for a week, and doctors rated his chances of completely recovering at only 50 per cent.

Now, of course, he is in rude health – “rude” being the operative word. But Mayall readily acknowledges that he has been changed fundamentally by the accident – not least because he is no longer allowed to drink alcohol. “Your twenties are when you go outraging. It was nice of God to smack me when I was 40 and say, ‘That’s enough being young; no more outraging.’

“I am aware that I’ve got another chance, so I value stuff more. I could have been dead, but someone up there said, ‘OK, you can have an extension.’ It’s like being allowed to stay in the pub after hours! Before the accident, half the day was spent drinking and half was spent hungover, but now I can’t drink, I’ve got a lot more time.”

Over the years, Mayall has been on the receiving end of flak from critics who view his humour as puerile. He accepts, with a sigh, that he and Edmondson “have got to the stage where we realise the heavyweight press have got it in for us”. Edmondson, who is appearing in Celebrity Fame Academy for Comic Relief, recently called a halt to the apparently endless tours of Bottom. Mayall says he has no hard feelings about his partner’s decision. “It took me by surprise when Ade said in a newspaper interview, ‘That’s enough’,” admits the comedian, who has been performing with Edmondson since they met at Manchester University some 30 years ago. “But we shook hands at the end of the last tour and said, ‘We’ve done it now.'”

But Mayall does not rule out collaborating with Edmondson again in the future. “That phase is over, but I love Ade, full stop, so never say ‘never’. It’s not the end of the line for me and him. When we get together again, we’ll write The Old Ones!”

He may be 46, but Mayall has never lost touch with the adolescent rebel within. “I have always tended toward extremism – I’m Motörhead rather than REO Speedwagon,” he declares with a characteristic verbal flourish. “As I see it, there’s mainstream comedy – and then there’s me, out in the badlands. I still feel dangerous, and I still feel I’m breaking new ground. I suppose I like being in control of what I do. I’ve always had a problem with doing what I’m told.”

The archetypal Young One 23 years ago, Mayall is now showing signs of ageing. His temples are greying, and he wears glasses for reading. But he displays no inclination to repair to the fireside with his pipe and slippers. He has just signed up for the lead role in It Happens, a new ITV1 comedy drama by Mike Bullen, creator of Cold Feet. He is also trying to find the time to complete an autobiography. “Hitler was only well-known for 15 years, and I’ve been globally famous for 25 years,” he jokes. “As I’m beating Hitler by 10 years, I thought it was about time someone wrote a book about me, and it might as well be me. But you can reassure all those actresses and members of the Royal Family I was involved with that I’ll change their names!”

Mayall’s Midlife Crisis

Daily Mail Weekend, 5th March 2005

Former Young One Rik Mayall ‘died’ for five days after a bike crash, then his best friend announced the end of their comedy partnership. Now he is back with a new TV show but, as Moira Petty finds, this time he has started lying about his age.

Life isn’t easy for an ageing enfant terrible. When Rik Mayall’s longtime comedy partner, Adrian Edmondson, announced recently that the pair were going their separate ways, it was news to Rik. He had appeared alongside his ‘best mate’ in shows spanning four decades of excessive, scatological humour ranging from the anarchic students of The Young Ones to Bottom – with live tours so violently physical that the pair were even hospitalised after one particularly strenuous performance.

Then Edmondson, the husband of Jennifer Saunders, had the cheek to hint that their best days were behind them, declaring, ‘We’re both nearly 50, so it was starting to feel undignified.’

Rik, though, could not be less interested in a graceful descent into his twilight years. ‘What is worrying is that people might infer from that that my career is over. So when Ade said, “There’s no more Bottom,” I said, “Right. I shall write my History of Everything.”‘ This tome, due to be published by HarperCollins in September, is, in fact, his memoirs, and entitled, in deliberately provocative style, Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ.

Whether the contents will prove to be as shocking as the title remains to be seen, as Rik confesses that the title is about all he has penned so far. The blasphemy is a reference to his near-fatal quad bike accident in April 1998 that left him in a five-day coma. ‘So I died for five days and Jesus only died for three days,’ he explains. The mishap left him with severe head injuries which, temporarily, caused impaired memory, shaky co-ordination and language muddles. (It is perhaps an indication of the way his mind works that among the words he mixed up were ‘lesbian’ and ‘pencil’.)

As a counterblast to Edmondson’s notion that they had outgrown the comedy that some called dark and shocking, others puerile, the announcement of Rik’s controversial-sounding autobiography is certainly effective. Does he still find their humour funny? ‘Yes. It rankles a little when people say, “You only do that kind of stuff.” At first he laughs off Edmondson’s statement about the end of their partnership. Did he know what his professional partner was about to say? ‘Not really.’ Has he confronted him? ‘Well, it’s personal, but we had a little chat about it, and it was all smoothed out. He’s doing a bit of farming down in Devon. The last time I saw him, he said, “We’ll get together in a couple of years.” I’m sure when we’re old enough we’ll do The Old Ones. Of course, I don’t want to take away from the drama of it, but we’re not having a trial separation. It’s not like we’re married,’ he says, although he has used the metaphor himself in the past.

Of the two, Rik has always been held to have the stronger solo career. He is due to start filming a peak-time TV comedy by Cold Feet writer Mike Bullen, and this month he is presenting a TV series. Though so much is made of street robberies, gun crime and gang violence, and people talk of a past Golden Age when it was safe to leave the front door unlocked and children could play safely in the park, the series, Violent Nation, traces the history of violence in Britain, pointing out that the most brutal race riot took place not in Bradford in 2000, but in Cardiff in 1919. The biggest ever act of football hooliganism happened not in 2003, but in 1923, and forget about worrying about inner-city gun-on-gun crime – gang violence reached its peak with the Teddy Boys’ switchblade culture in the 1950s. A leading criminologist interviewed for the programme explains that there was more chance of being mugged in central Manchester in 1950 than there is today, and Rik recalls one fact that intrigued him. ‘The murder rate in Oxford in the Middle Ages was so high that if you translated it to London today, it would represent 40,000 deaths a year.’

In one episode, Rik gamely explores 16th century instruments of torture. At the police cadet training centre at Hendon, he allows himself to be handcuffed by a woman police officer who soon has him on his knees. ‘Yes, she was sexy and dominant, but when she pulled the handcuffs in a certain way, my knees buckled under me. It’s hard for you to believe that I wasn’t acting. I think she touched some nerve in my wrist that communicates with the knee.’

Rik had decided to take 2004 off as he had been away for much of the previous year on comedy and theatrical tours. ‘I was going to stay at home and play with the kids. We had A-levels and GCSEs coming up. That was until June, when someone said, “Hey, do you want to be on the telly?”‘ This is his first stint as a documentary presenter. ‘When they said it was about violence I was interested, to be honest.’

We meet in a London hotel. I find Rik leaning against a mantelpiece in the languid manner of a character from a Noel Coward play. (He later tells me that he has just been offered a part in Coward’s Private Lives -‘West End, baby’ – opposite Minnie Driver.) He doesn’t turn around until I walk over and introduce myself. ‘Oh!’ he cries, bottom lip quivering. ‘You spoiled it.’ I think he means that he had been planning to swing round and deliver a jaunty opening line. Rik became a star in his early 20s with other stand-up performers from the Comic Strip venue in the West End. ‘Fame is difficult only when you don’t deserve it. For me, it was putting on a shirt that fitted. I adored fame. It’s what my life was always about, from my schooldays in Droitwich, Worcestershire. I was very good-looking, and so there wasn’t very much difference in the way girls reacted to me after I became famous. There were just more of them, and that suited me.’ Hordes used to follow me around. I’ve always been very heterosexual, and liked women a lot.

There is a mad glint in his eye and an edge to his voice. He is prone to comic exaggeration when the conversation gets too personal. He strides around like a hyperactive child until I beg him to sit down. When he does, he is rather more serious and honest, and totally contradicts himself.

‘I always think I’m going to find interviews difficult and worrying; that I’m going to give away the real person I am,’ he says. ‘I have a much lower opinion of myself than I would ever show. I’m aware of how things will look in print at all times. I’m always surprised at how good-looking people think I am. The truth is that women don’t come on to me, not nearly enough. I have no idea why. If I knew, I’d make myself more approachable.’

Rik has, in fact, been happily married to his wife, Barbara, for nearly two decades. ‘We celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary a few weeks ago. And she was my mistress for five years before that. I hate it when celebrities talk about their happy marriages. I don’t like all this “I believe in fidelity” stuff. I’d hate to set myself up as any kind of moralist. I’m an anarcho-surrealist and I believe in no law, but I do believe in love.’

You have to be nimble on your toes with Rik because he is liable to tell the odd white lie. ‘I’m nearly 46,’ he proclaims. He is already 46, I protest. ‘Oh, all right. You’ve done your research. I’m 47 on March 7. I’ve got 46 on the brain because I’ve been reading Mike Bullen’s script for It Happens, and it keeps saying, “George, 46”. I’m thinking, “Are they doing that to attract me?”‘

He is excited by It Happens [now known as All About George], but worried about how it will affect his standing as a supplier of alternative entertainment. He explains, ‘I’m going to be playing someone who’s a grandpa at my age. He has a huge extended family and his daughter has just had a baby. He has to teach her to change nappies. Jack Shepherd is going to play my father, but I don’t know about the rest of the cast. I’m playing – dare I say this? – a goodie. That’s very hard. I don’t want you saying, “Oh, look, Rik’s becoming a nice, straight, grown-up sell-out.” No! Because playing a goodie is a challenge as an actor.’

While his comedy shows splurge on cartoon-style violence, his series Violent Nation takes a more serious stance on the subject. Has Rik ever been involved in real-life violence himself? He rustles up two incidents. The son of two teachers and the second of four children, Rik took his 11-plus exam at only nine as it was being phased out and success would mean a free place at the fee-paying King’s School in Worcester. He was subsequently the youngest boy there when he arrived a year early. ‘As I walked across the playground, one kid, knowing my surname, yelled, “Fe-Mayall. Hey, Fifi.” I turned around and whack! He hit the ground. He was taken to hospital and lost two teeth, but I didn’t get any more trouble there.’

More recently, he was ‘beaten up by a security man’ after attending a show-business party in London. Rik had intervened in an altercation between the driver of his car and the driver of a van that was blocking the road. ‘The security guard arrived and took a swing at me. I hadn’t done anything. Then Hugh Laurie and some others came running from the party and saved me.’ Rik’s wife had gone to fetch help. ‘I’m surprised she didn’t beat up the security man herself, but it would have spoiled her dress. You don’t mess with Barb. She’s from Glasgow.

‘A long time ago, I was on the road with Ben [Elton, who, along with Edmondson, Rik met at university]. After a show in Newcastle, we went to a nightclub. When Barb went to the toilet, this Geordie lass came up and said, “Ooh, Rik. Aren’t you a nice guy?” Just then a fist appeared in front of my face. It was my wife. She said to the girl, “And you can clear off.”‘

There was one complication when he met Barbara Robbin, who, at the time, was a makeup artist at BBC Scotland. Rik was already in a steady relationship with scriptwriter Lise Mayer, who later became Angus Deayton’s girlfriend. ‘There was a big drama when I got a phone call from Barb, who said, “I’m pregnant.” I said, “I’ll be on the next train”, and we ran away together.’ To complicate matters, Lise had also discovered she was pregnant, but did not in the end carry the child to full term. Rik says he is now on friendly terms with her, but is reluctant to say any more on that subject. ‘It is all down to my daughter, Rosie, who turned 18 last August, that Barb and I are together. Now we’ve got to take her to vote and show her where to put her cross.’ They have two other children, Sidney, 16, and Bonnie, ten. He talks very fondly of his wife. ‘I’m not bragging, but we’re in love.’

His other ‘relationship’, with Edmondson, goes back further, to 1975, when they met on the first day of their Manchester University drama course. ‘There was this kid with really long hair sitting in the lecture theatre with his feet up. The professor came in and I immediately stood up, and Ade laughed uproariously. He was the coolest man in the universe, and I was the biggest twit. He’s more intelligent than me, more rational and attentive. I’m more dreamlike, less controlled. When we write together, I pace and he types, shouting, “Shut up, shut up.” We always agreed that if we came up with a gag that only one of us liked, it was out. It was like two guys mending a car.’

The comic routines he created with Edmondson in the late 1970s, when they were part of the fiveman 20th Century Coyote act, developed into The Dangerous Brothers and then The Young Ones, whose revolting house-sharing students evolved to become the characters in Bottom. But he has done plenty on his own, from TV’s The New Statesman, playing the egregious politician Alan B’Stard, to the Russian classic The Government Inspector at the National Theatre, and Simon Gray’s Cell Mates in the West End (killed off when its star, Stephen Fry, suffering from stage fright, disappeared to Belgium for some days).

His films have included Drop Dead Fred and Churchill: The Hollywood Years, and he played Hitler in a No To The Euro campaign commercial, a performance he judged as satirical but some saw as anti-Semitic. ‘I got into trouble. Questions were asked in Parliament,’ he says with satisfaction. His TV ads for Nintendo were so well paid that he nicknamed his west London house Nintendo Towers.

‘Now look here, I’ve done some big things in my time, but I’ve topped it all by being the Andrex puppy,’ he says. Being the voice of TV’s cutest canine is silly enough not to embarrass him. What pains him is the idea that he might be out of touch. One of the short-lived after-effects of his accident was that he suffered from synaesthesia, a condition in which the senses are confused with each other. ‘I would experience colour when I heard a certain word, for instance, and objects looked as if they were moving around. It was much what I imagine being high on LSD is like.’ Has he ever taken drugs? ‘No, never. I’m too scared. It’s not very rock ‘n’ roll, is it?’

For a while after the accident, Rik sometimes stumbled over his lines on stage. Edmondson once shouted at him, ‘You can’t remember the next bloody line, can you?’ when they were doing their comedy double-act. But it became part of the show. Edmondson’s next rebuke to Rik was, ‘Next time, I’ll sabotage your brakes properly.’

In fact, the accident highlighted a deep-set tenderness between the old friends. His wife later told Rik that Edmondson had sobbed by his hospital bed when he lay unconscious. The one lasting legacy of the quad bike crash, in the grounds of Rik’s holiday home in Devon, is that he is susceptible to epileptic attacks. ‘I have to take medication, but I don’t want to talk about it in case people think I’m not able to work.’ He had one attack at Gatwick Airport in 2000, when flying to Canada to film Kevin Of The North, and just had time to ask a stranger for help before he collapsed. The production company then offered to pay for Rik’s wife to join him. Rik says that nothing as dramatic has happened since.

Through his tribulations, his ability to shock has not deserted him. During his time off last year, he co-authored a 13-part comedy series, The Murderers, starring a psychotic, very English killer called Eustace, a part he would like to play himself. ‘He’s foul, hypocritical, a ball of vanity. I put into the characters I create myself parts of my own personality that embarrass me. My characters are all vain and self-obsessed. That’s how you exorcise those traits. Self-obsession is the Achilles heel that my family use on me. “Oh, Dad, stop talking about yourself.”‘

Eustace, he says, is a character ‘to the max’. Rik showed the script to Granada International TV executive Paul Jackson, who screened The Young Ones and Bottom. ‘He told me, “Rik, this is fantastic, but I don’t know where I’m going to sell it. It’s just a bit too extreme.” That’s the first time that has happened to me. Twenty years ago, it would have been on the TV like that,’ he says, with a click of his fingers. He is looking forward to starring in Private Lives on the stage. ‘Coward suits me. I have the same rhythm of speech. He also wanted to shock people with things that were dangerous and untypical of what was on the stage at the time.’ Unlike Edmondson, Rik will not be retiring to tend his country acres. ‘Working is my life. I live for it. It’s about getting out of my head and being someone else. Working live is like sex. You lead your audience on, guide them, respond to them, sense and smell them, and give them slightly more than they expected.

‘Actually,’ he says, with one of his impish smiles, ‘it’s probably better than sex.’

Has Comic Mayall Gone Soft?

ITV Teletext, 10th August 2005

He’s been revolting faux anarchist Rick in The Young Ones, obnoxious Tory MP Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman and vile, violent loser Richie in Bottom.

After years of extreme incarnations, Rik Mayall is sbout to be seen tackling something far more wholesome.

ITV1 comedy/drama All About George, by Cold Feet writer Mike Bullen, sees him play a respectable, middle-class family man. Has the alternative comedian gone soft?

All About George sees alternative comedy legend Rik Mayall play an at times wacky but mostly wholesome dad.

“I was surprised to be offered this script and that’s one of the reasons I took it,” says the actor, 47, who frequently talks through what is neither a manic grin or gritted teeth.

“I was being asked to play something I haven’t played before – a good man. That attracted me.”

All About George seems a world away from Rik Mayall’s anarchic work of the past. But he believes rhere is a link.

“You could say The Young Ones was about being a teenager, The New Statesman was about being in your 20’s, Bottom was about being in your 30’s and All About George is about being in your 40’s,” he says defensively.

“I think it’s about being 40 and about being a man.” The show begins September 29.

Like his All About George character, Rik Mayall is a happily married man but he insists the similarities end there.

“I am a very different father to George” says the actor who, with wife Barbara, has children Rosie 18, Sid 16 and nine year old Bonnie.

“I am very lucky because my wife does everything. All I have to do is remember to let the cat in.” George has a lot more responsibilities.”

So has one of the most warped stars of alternative comedy gone soft with his foray into mainstream comedy drama.

“You’re accusing me of going all sentimental”, he snarls. “But I haven’t done this instead of something else, I’ve done this as well as something else.”

“I don’t have a problem with becoming a housewives favourite. I’ve done so much in my oeuvre. I’m a global light-entertainment phenomena.”

Rik Mayall’s life almost came to an end in 1998 in a horriffic quad bike crash.

“I was dead for 5 days,” he says. “Two-fifths of my brain was clogged with blood when I came round and it was like being on acid. I could see sound and hear colour.”

“It took me a while to get my brain working properly again.” Mayall has admitted that his short term memory suffered for a while afterwards.

So what does the future hold for the irrepressible Rik Mayall?

“I’m writing a TV film with Peter Richardson (The Comic Strip Presents) called Sex, Actually he says.

“There’s also the release of my book Bigger Than Hitler Better Than Christ which I suppose will cause some controversy” he says with mock innocence. And more All About George? “I’ll be doing George until I’m 70.”

Film version of Shoebox Zoo TV hit ‘to rival Harry Potter’

By Senay Boztas, Arts Correspondent for The Sunday Herald, 25th September 2005

THE “ambitious” film version of hit children’s TV series Shoebox Zoo, currently in development, will rival blockbusters such as the Harry Potter series, according to its producers.

Claire Mundell, executive producer of the movie, has revealed the film will be crafted in the “fantasy genre”, pitting it against favourites such as the Potter films and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

The BBC is funding the development of the movie.

The script, which is in its second draft, tells the story of the mysterious wizard Michael Scot and his Book Of Forbidden Knowledge, lost a century ago. When Marnie McBride, a young girl from Denver, Colorado, arrives in Edinburgh with her father after the death of her mother, she stumbles upon a magic shoebox in an old junk shop.

She, it appears, has been chosen by Scot – an alchemist based on a real-life historical figure – to find this book, with the help of the digitally animated animals from the box.

BBC Worldwide and BBC Scotland are supporting the creation of the screenplay, which will be put to a variety of funders in Canada, Scotland and across the world at Christmas.

The television programme, which has its second series screened on the CBBC channel later this month, has been sold to 27 countries, and there are rumours it could be in the running for an Emmy award.

Mundell, who is writing the script with the series director Justin Molotnikov and writer Brian Ward, said they have great ambitions.

“We are very hopeful it could stand up as a worthy member of the fantasy genre that includes Harry Potter – we have the story, and the talent. The strategy for the film is an ambitious one. It won’t be low budget, as the animation needs to be of the highest quality.

“It is a great project for Scotland, and we hope to be able to realise it with the right level of production value. Predominantly, the story is set in Scotland, so we would be doing a lot of filming in Scotland.”

The team will approach potential partners, funders and studios later this year. Mundell said they may work with the same companies as they did for the television series: Los Angeles-based Blueprint Entertainment, Alberta Filmworks and Calibre Digital Pictures in Canada.

Shoebox Zoo, which will be screened again on BBC1 next year, has a star-studded cast of characters, many of whom will be invited to work on the film. Peter Mullan plays Scot, the wizard, while Alan Cumming provides the voice for Bruno, the animated kind-hearted bear, Rik Mayall voices the pompous eagle and Simon Callow is wily Wolfgang the wolf.

Siobhan Redmond plays Ailsa, the sly adder, while the young Canadian actress Vivien Endicott-Douglas and Jason Connery – son of Sir Sean – play Marnie and her father.

“It is very early stages, with regards to the cast,” said Mundell. “We have had an amazing cast, and we would want to try and build on some of those relationships, but we haven’t had those conversations yet. It is just a very universal story, and had the same impact in America as in Russia, as a children’s and family show but with a wide range of appeal.”

Ward, who is working on the second draft, said that it is a compelling story.

“It is a feature film that has to compete with the likes of Harry Potter and Shrek, so it is a much bigger thing than the series but has a lot of the same elements,” he said.

“It is a re-imagining of Shoebox Zoobut takes the journey further into the past, with more of Michael Scot, the figure of myth and legend. We see him in Toledo, where he studied and was alchemist to the court of the Roman emperor, mentioned in history by people from Dante to Isaac Newton.

“I have been trying to put him in a story for a time, and treat him as a figure of myth – although it is not as historically accurate as some historians might like,” he added.

10 Things Not Many People Know About Me.

Reveal, 1st-7th October 2005

1. Love ruined my exams
I made a mess of my A-level exams at King’s School, Worcester, because I was in love with Jo Nugent, my teenage sweetheart.

2. I’m the Andrex puppy!
Not many people know I’m the voice of the puppy in the Andrex TV ad. I’m very proud of it. And actress Julia Ford, who plays my wife in the TV series, All About George, does the voice-over for Kleenex Double Velvet Toilet Tissue.

3. I secretly fancy Mary Nightingale
Apart from my wife, I really fancy the newsreader, Mary Nightingale. There is something very dangerous about her eyes. I think she knows a lot more about pleasure than I do.

4. Tommy Cooper was my inspiration
He was one of my great heroes. I loved the way he lit up when an audience was laughing.

5. I like sick things
In one of our Bottom videos, I had this vomit machine, which was fantastic. The sick came up the side of my arm via a tube, so I could pretend the puke was coming down my nose. It was fun!

6. I was a big geek
At the first lecture I went to at Manchester University, I stood up when the professor entered the room, and all the other students laughed. They thought I was square.

7. I kissed Kate Moss
In Blackadder Back & Forth, I played Robin Hood and got to snog Kate Moss, who was Maid Marian. It was her first screen kiss, so I thought we ought to do a few more takes, but I wasn’t allowed!

8. I beat bullies
One day at school, one kid, knowing my surname, yelled ‘Fe-mayall. Hey Fifi.’ I turned round and hit him so hard, he lost two teeth and was taken to hospital. But I didn’t get any more trouble.

9. How I found my vocation
When I was a little boy, I started pulling faces at a school concert, and it made people laugh. I had to stand in the corner for being naughty, but then I took my pants down and got an even bigger laugh. I realised how satisfying it was to get that kind of reaction, so decided to be a comedian.

10. Ladies like to throw pants at me
On every tour of Bottom, I’d have a pants competition with Adrian Edmondson. I used to ask women to throw knickers at me and bricks at him. I was ahead by 163 pairs. Ade only got 70.